• Senate to Take up Saudi Arabia Punishment
• Trump Is Embedded in a Culture of Lying
• The New Senate Will Be Even Friendlier to Trump than the Old One
• No Autopsy This Time
• Comey and Goodlatte Reach a Deal
• Harris to Decide on a Run over the Holidays
• Monday Q&A
Congress was supposed to pass a budget this week to avert a government shutdown. The deadline has been moved back a week or so. The cover story is that the vote is being postponed out of respect to former president George H.W. Bush. But according to Stan Collender, who is an insider who has worked for both the House Budget Committee and the Senate Budget Committee, the real reason is that the votes aren't there. If the votes were there, the bill would have been renamed the "George H.W. Bush Budget Act" and passed.
It is a truism in politics, that when the votes are there to pass something, it is voted on immediately before something happens that might possibly lose some votes. In contrast, when the votes aren't there, the can is kicked down the road (possibly again and again). Furthermore, it is entirely possible that Donald Trump doesn't have a Plan B if Congress doesn't give him $5 billion to start building his wall. The problem is that many Republicans are already worried about the deficit, and building a wall that might cost $25-30 billion in the end just makes it worse. Making a $5 billion down payment on a project they don't want is not a great start. Of course, Trump is deeply committed to his wall, but if Senate Republicans have told him the votes aren't there, he is going to have to come up with a Plan B fast. He could possibly think of one while gritting his teeth at Bush's funeral. (V)
The budget isn't the only hairy situation on the Senate's agenda right now. There is also Saudi Arabia. A bipartisan resolution sponsored by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Mike Lee (R-UT) would require Donald Trump to cease all support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen within 30 days of passage. This would be in response, of course, to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman's having ordered the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
There appears to be fairly broad support for doing something about Saudi Arabia. After all, the current measure has the support of the men who are arguably the Senate's most liberal and most conservative members (Sanders and Lee, respectively). However, as always, the devil is in the details. There are several senators who have supported the resolution so far, but have signaled they would prefer to replace it with their own measure. On top of that, there are disputes about procedure, and whether or not amendments to a Saudi Arabia bill will be allowed. On one hand, amendments would make a measure more likely to pass, since they would allow fence-sitting senators to add their two cents to the bill. On the other hand, some senators might use the amendment process to force votes on all sorts of things that would be politically embarrassing to their colleagues, like fixing Obamacare, or restoring the Voting Rights Act, or doubling the funding for ICE.
And then, even if the measure makes its way through the Senate and the House, there is still the small matter of Donald Trump, who does not want to punish the Saudis. The White House has already threatened to veto any resolution, which means that if the senators cannot whip up a veto-proof majority, then they are likely just spinning their wheels. Whatever happens, there are going to be a lot of members who will be very happy when the Christmas break finally comes. (Z)
Consider these undisputed facts:
- Michael Cohen has admitted that he lied to Congress
- Paul Manafort lied to cover up illegal financial transactions
- Rick Gates also lied to cover up financial fraud
- George Papadopoulos lied in hopes of getting a job with the administration
- Michael Flynn lied about his interaction with a Russian official
- Sean Spicer lied when he said Trump's inaugural crowd was the biggest ever, despite photos proving otherwise
The list goes on and on. It appears that lying is second nature to many (maybe most) people in Trump's orbit. And then there are the over 6,400 lies Trump himself has told. Past presidents and cabinet members have told lies from time to time, but never before has lying been standard operating procedure for any administration.
Part of the reason for lying by Trump associates is that "if the president does it, it must be all right." But there is another factor as well. If someone tells the truth and it contradicts what Trump is saying now, Trump regards him or her as a traitor, even if that person is just parroting what Trump said yesterday or even a few hours ago.
As to Trump himself, as a private businessman, lying rarely had consequences for him. If he made a claim that wasn't true and got sued for it, he would just sic his real lawyer, Marc Kasowicz, on the person suing him and the problem usually went away. The strategy worked so well for so long that Trump just continued to claim whatever he wanted to in the White House, without even considering (or caring) if it was true. Old habits are hard to break. But the result is an administration that basically regards the truth as irrelevant.
However, as special counsel Robert Mueller puts more and more people in prison for lying under oath, lying to the FBI, and lying to Congress, it will be harder and harder for Trump to maintain that lies are just fine, especially if members of his immediate family get caught in lies and the lies begin to have consequences (Don Jr. and Jared, we are looking at you). (V)
Despite Trump and members of his administration lying constantly, few members of the Senate are willing to call him out on his lies. The new Senate will be even more friendly to him than the old one. Two of his Republican critics, Sens. Jeff Flake (AZ) and Bob Corker (TN), will be gone, and four of the five new Republican senators hugged Trump very closely during their campaigns, especially right-wing firebrand Sen.-elect Marsha Blackburn (TN). For Trump, getting rid of two critics and picking up four toadies is going to make getting along with the Senate (and getting it to jump when so instructed) much easier.
The only nuisance Trump has to worry about is Sen.-elect Mitt Romney (R-UT). Romney is not afraid of Trump at all, but it is not clear yet what his game plan is or why he even ran. One theory is that he plans to stand up to Trump constantly and call him out all the time, something that will get a lot more attention from a sitting senator than from a failed presidential candidate. However, another theory is that his real goal is to help take back the Republican Party from Trump and that doing it as a senator is easier than doing it as a private citizen. If this is his plan, he may spend a lot of time fundraising for traditional Republicans running against Trumpists in primaries, rather than openly opposing Trump. We'll find out before long. (V)
After Mitt Romney lost in 2012, the RNC commissioned an "autopsy" report to figure out what happened and how it could be fixed. The report was very clear: There aren't enough Republicans in the country to elect a president so the GOP has to reach out to independents, moderate Democrats, minorities, and young people. That never happened. In fact, it has gotten much worse, with Donald Trump focusing entirely on his own base and doing his level best to antagonize everyone else.
Now that the GOP has taken a "thumping," "shellacking," or whatever in 2018, losing 40 seats in the House, half a dozen governorships, and over 300 seats in state legislatures, one might think it was time for another autopsy report. One would be wrong.
The House Republican caucus has just elected its new leadership, which is pretty much the same as the old one. No one has questioned what went wrong, none of the leaders have asked for an autopsy report, and none of them has any plan to change course. Apparently no one is aware of Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." (Actually, if Einstein said this, he was probably borrowing from an older source).
The new House is unlikely to call for an autopsy report because after the bloodbath in suburbia, most of the new Republican House caucus is from deep-red rural areas that love Donald Trump. These members don't see what the problem is, since they did just fine. The problem is easy to diagnose: Donald Trump is a hugely polarizing figure and about 60% of the country hates him. The solution is a wee bit harder to find though. Maybe no one is calling for an autopsy because Republicans intuitively know what the report will say: Stop focusing on the base and try to bring other voters into the tent.
Unlike the leadership, some backbench Republicans are already worried about 2020. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said: "There has been close to no introspection in the G.O.P. conference and really no coming to grips with the shifting demographics that get to why we lost those seats." Rep. David Young (R-IA), who lost his suburban Des Moines seat blamed his loss on "the Trump effect." Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) put it this way: "If we don't learn some lessons from this election we will not be a majority party." But so far, it does not appear that any lessons have been taken to heart. (V)
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and former FBI Director James Comey have reached an agreement about Comey's testimony before Goodlatte's Committee. He will testify behind closed doors, as Goodlatte has demanded, but Comey is free to hold a press conference or otherwise talk about his testimony immediately after it is over. Further, a verbatim transcript of the testimony will be released within 24 hours. As a consequence of the agreement, Comey has withdrawn his lawsuit to force the Committee to question him in open session.
Comey was afraid that the Committee would begin a series of carefully selected and distorted leaks as soon as he was finished. Now he can freely tell his side of the story first, and with the testimony appearing within 24 hours, reporters will be able to quickly verify if he told the truth, something some people still care about. (V)
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) was in San Francisco on Saturday for a public forum hosted by MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski. The Senator was asked about her 2020 presidential plans, and said that, "It will ultimately be a family decision. And over the holiday, I will make that decision with my family."
This is significant, in part, because Harris is one of the leading contenders for the 2020 nomination. In fact, she's at the front of the field, alongside Beto O'Rourke, if you believe the sports books. It's more significant, however, because it indicates that the invisible primary is about to become visible. Generally speaking, candidates don't want to declare too early, because it puts targets on their backs and also triggers stricter laws about fundraising and campaigning. On the other hand, they also don't want to declare too late, because they risk losing the lion's share of the attention, money, and high-quality staffers to other candidates. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) dropped out last week, and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have joined Harris in suggesting that a decision is coming in the next month or so. Consequently, it looks like the field for the 2020 Democratic horse race is going to really start to take shape in January. (Z)
Given the passing of the 41st president this week, it seems apropos to start with a question about him.
I would welcome your thoughts on the legacy of President George H.W. Bush. Were it not for the U.S. recession of 1992, could Bush have won a second term and truly cemented his place in history as a world leader who had his finger on the pulse during the 5 most turbulent years in the 20th century since the end of World War II? D.F., Hamilton, Scotland
We agree that, over the long haul, Bush will be regarded as a middle-of-the-pack president. Neither particularly good, nor particularly bad. However, we are not really on board with the rest of your reasoning.
When considering presidential greatness, and historical legacies, it is instructive to look at the ratings of presidents over time (a question that scholars began to look at systematically in the 1950s). There's some variation over time, but it is generally the case that for a president to be in the upper ranks, he needs to do one or both of two things: win a major war, or change the country for the better in a long-lasting way.
Bush's problem is not really the economic downturn, or even being a one-termer. It's that he's lacking in long-term accomplishments. It's true that he helped put down a strongman in Panama, and that he navigated the Tiananmen Square aftermath, and that he secured victory in the Persian Gulf War. However, it is also the case that not much changed in China, and that the threat posed by Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein is not likely to resonate through the ages in the way that the threat posed by Adolf Hitler or the Kaiser will. It's true that Bush also saw the U.S. through the end of the Cold War, but a consensus is already emerging that winning the Cold War was a team effort, and that every president from FDR to Bush gets some of the credit.
So, with no outstanding, long-term accomplishments to his credit, and no major reverses or defeats on his ledger, that puts Bush in the squarely average category, alongside one-termers like John Quincy Adams and Jimmy Carter, and two-termers like James Madison and Stephen Grover Cleveland.
If The Donald is forced out of office before the 2020 elections or chooses not to run for a second term, how electable is Mike Pence? R.H., Australia
With the caveat that 2016 taught us that anything is possible, we would say he is not very electable. He does have some advantages, namely that evangelicals love him, and that he is from the Midwest. However, he also lacks some key elements of the Trump recipe for success. Pence is not willing to be outrageous and bombastic, and even if he tried, it wouldn't come off as particularly plausible. While he does have a media background (radio host), he's not particularly charismatic. Meanwhile, if there is any candidate less appealing to women voters than Trump, it's a guy whose ideas about gender are more characteristic of a past century. And by past, we mean the 19th. He is opposed to choice, of course, and is none too fond of birth control. He also believes that men cannot be trusted around women, and so won't dine with a female unless his wife is present. And then, on top of that, we would have to assume that Trump's dropping out would be prompted by an abundance of scandal and infamy, which would necessarily weigh Pence down.
To put it another way, Trump won election by the narrowest of margins. Are there any Clinton voters that Pence might plausibly pick up? Not many. Are there any Trump voters that Pence might lose? Quite a few, particularly women in the suburbs. The math just doesn't work.
In the absurdly unlikely event that the President, VP, and Speaker of the House die simultaneously, the next in line for office is the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. After that, it goes to the cabinet in order of when the office was created. However, given that there is always a member of the majority party in line, how would it ever get past the President Pro Tempore? Would this create a constitutional crisis? A.M., Reno, NV
You might be operating under one or two misunderstandings. The first is that "ranking" member means highest-ranking person from the non-majority party. The second is that it is entirely possible for all of the people in the line of succession to be from the same party. In fact, that is the case right now: The current succession is Mike Pence, Paul Ryan (R-WI), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and then the Cabinet, who are all Republicans.
So, what would happen in, say, six months, if Trump and Pence were both to be out of office at the same time, due to death, or resignation, or impeachment and conviction? The new speaker, presumably Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), would move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Republicans wouldn't like it, but the law says what it says, so it would be very hard for them to turn it into a crisis.
And note that it is possible for one of the spots in the line of succession to be open (say, before a new Speaker is chosen) or to be occupied by someone not eligible to the presidency (say, Madeleine Albright, when she was Secretary of State). However, the only plausible way that the succession could get past the VP, or maybe the Speaker, would be some sort of military attack or other disaster. For this reason, the VP and President aren't allowed to sleep in the same building or travel in the same plane. And on the occasions where everyone in the line of succession is in the same place, namely the State of the Union Address (or some other presidential address to Congress, or the inauguration), one person is chosen as the "designated survivor," and is given USSS protection and spends the duration hanging out in a secure location inside a nice, nuclear bomb-proof bunker.
The 12th Amendment seems to specify that the President and Vice President must come from different states. Am I interpreting things correctly? Has this ever been an issue in an election? L.R., Walpole, MA
You're close, but not quite right. What it actually says is that electors cannot vote for two people from their home state. So, for example, if there were a Kamala Harris/Eric Garcetti ticket, the California electors would not be allowed to vote for both of them. The ticket itself would be legal, however, and electors from states other than California would be allowed to vote for both.
The purpose for this rule, incidentally, was to limit the power of big states to control the presidency. However, it's never really been much of an issue, since there's a fair bit of motivation for a presidential candidate to "balance" the ticket by choosing someone from another state (and, usually, another region). The closest was in 2000, when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were both residents of Texas. However, Cheney quickly "moved" back to Wyoming, where he owned a home since the time he represented the state in the House, and established residency there. Surely, any other VP candidate would do the same if it came up.
Now, if Cheney had not moved, then there would have been an issue, because the 27 Texas electors would not have been able to vote for both Bush and him. They would, of course, have cast their votes for Bush if forced to choose. And since 2000 was very close, it would have meant that Cheney would not have been elected, and that the choice of vice president would likely have gone to the Senate, with each senator getting one vote. Since the Democrats took control of the Senate in that election, and since they have to pick from the two finishers in the contest, that would likely have left us with a combo of Bush and Joe Lieberman.
My question is based upon one of your items this week. Although it is obviously not going to fly with the general public as being very wrong to do, could the now-Democratically-controlled House decide not to seat any Republican, since they have a majority? And keep forcing new elections in any Republican district until the following Congress? They would likely feel the wrath of the entire general public if they did something so underhanded, but could it be legal? S.O.C., Mexico
Let's start with the first important bit of law, namely Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, which says, "Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members." That is the basis for booting members that don't live up to the members' standards.
This power is not absolute, however. In 1967, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was elected as a representative from New York. There was no question that he met the minimum qualifications for Congress (he was at least 25 years old, was a U.S. citizen, and was a resident of New York, which elected him). However, he had engaged in some shady behavior, including skipping out on some debts, and using government funds to hire his wife. The House tried not to seat Powell, on the basis that his corrupt behavior disqualified him, and he sued and won. The Supreme Court's decision in Powell v. McCormack (1969) made clear that the only qualifications Congress is allowed to judge are the ones laid out in the Constitution (namely, age, citizenship, residence).
Since Powell v. McCormack was decided, this particular issue hasn't particularly been put to the test, as the two questionable seatings (Louis C. Wyman or John A. Durkin in 1974, and Roland Burris in 2009) were resolved before it was necessary to get the courts involved. If the House were to refuse to seat Mark Harris, they would zoom in on the other parts of Article I, Section 5, arguing that Harris may be qualified, but that they judged the returns that elected him to be illegitimate. He would sue, and then it would be back to the Supreme Court to decide.
As this answer hopefully makes clear, any attempt to refuse seats to Republicans en masse would not only be political suicide, it would also fail. The GOP would sue, and the Court would rule that the unseated representatives' qualifications, elections, and returns are not in question, and so they must be allowed to assume their seats.
Why all this talk of pardoning Manafort: Will he, won't he? Why not just turn this over for state prosecutors, where Trump can't pardon, and be done with it? Manafort may sing like a canary at that point. K.B., Venice, FL
One reason for Mueller to hold state-level crimes in his back pocket is to retain leverage over Manafort, in the event that leverage is needed to extract more information from him.
Now, however, Mueller knows that Manafort is untrustworthy and unreliable, and so Manafort's information would not be of much use. Only Mueller knows for sure why he hasn't had a friend in Virginia or in New York go after state-level crimes. Maybe he's too busy to deal with it. But the likeliest explanation is that he is daring Trump to issue a pardon. That would not only further weaken the President's position, but would also give Mueller another key piece of evidence for his collusion case.
There are a few permutations in the Electoral College, some of which are not all that unlikely to happen, which would result in a 269-269 tie. It's also possible that a third party candidate might grab the electoral votes of a single state and therefore deny an outright majority to any of the candidates. In such a case, the Constitution mandates that the House of Representatives decide the outcome of the election, with the states voting by delegation and each state having one vote. Given the current makeup of the House, how would such a scenario turn out if Trump and the Democratic nominee were to tie one another in 2020? J.B., Hutto, TX
At the moment, there are 26 delegations controlled by the Republicans and 22 controlled by the Democrats, with Michigan and Pennsylvania tied. So, under current circumstances, Trump would win in the case of an electoral college tie. However, members of Congress take their seats on Jan. 3, 17 days before the inauguration. And that means it would not be the current Congress that would make the call, it would be the next one. At the moment, in addition to the two ties, Florida is 14-13 for the GOP and Wisconsin is 5-3. So, if the Democrats were to flip one seat in each of those four states, then it would all of a sudden be 25-24 for the blue team. And if there's another blue wave, even a small one, the gap could easily grow, as Georgia and North Carolina are within reach.
Note that if the House were to deadlock 25 to 25, it would keep voting until the dam broke. There is no other way out. Meanwhile, the Senate could elect a vice president, who would act as president until the House finally made a decision.
If you have a question about politics, civics, history, etc. you would like us to answer, click here for submission instructions and previous Q & A's. If you spot any typos or other errors on the site that we should fix, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec02 Mattis: Russia Tried to Interfere in Midterms
Dec02 Bush Plans Come into Focus
Dec02 Replacing Nikki is Tricky
Dec02 Pelosi Promotes Barbara Lee
Dec02 Six White House Officials Violated the Hatch Act
Dec02 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Tulsi Gabbard
Dec01 George H.W. Bush Dead at 94
Dec01 Trump Nails Down NAFTA Replacement, But He's Not Out of the Woods Yet
Dec01 Senate Republicans Dump All over Flake
Dec01 Democrats Reveal Their First Bill
Dec01 Schiff Wants to Investigate Trump's Plan to Give Putin a Penthouse
Dec01 Shenanigans in NC-09?
Dec01 Espy Will Run for the Senate Again in 2020
Nov30 A Tale of Two Rats
Nov30 Trump in Meltdown Mode
Nov30 Deutsche Bank Headquarters Raided
Nov30 No Meeting with Putin
Nov30 House Democrats Elect Cheri Bustos to Head the DCCC
Nov30 Tim Scott Shoots Down Farr
Nov30 Comey Sues to Quash Subpoena
Nov29 Republicans Block Bill That Would Protect Mueller
Nov29 Trump Told Mueller That He Didn't Know about the Trump Tower Meeting in Advance
Nov29 Everyone is Denying That They Knew About Wikileaks
Nov29 Democrats Nominate Pelosi as Speaker
Nov29 Powell Defends the Fed against Trump
Nov29 House Rundown
Nov29 Thursday Q&A
Nov28 Hyde-Smith Beats Espy, as Expected
Nov28 McSally Is Not a Shoo-in for Kyl's Seat
Nov28 Flake May Be Able to Force Vote on Bill Protecting Mueller
Nov28 Trump Sits for an Interview
Nov28 Comey: Whitaker May Not Be the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer
Nov28 Manafort's Breaking His Deal Is a Setback for Mueller
Nov28 Mueller Looks to Ecuador
Nov28 Cuomo Won't Run for President
Nov27 Final Senate Race Is Today in Mississippi
Nov27 General Motors Will Slash Jobs and Trump Is Not Happy
Nov27 Trump Disapproval Hits All-Time High in Gallup Poll
Nov27 Nadler: A Partisan Impeachment Will Tear the Country Apart
Nov27 Manafort Allegedly Lied to Mueller; Corsi Says "No Plea"
Nov27 Who Will Be Trump's Running Mate in 2020?
Nov27 Cox Leads, Love Concedes
Nov26 Alan Dershowitz: Mueller Report Will Be Devastating
Nov26 Farm Bankruptcies Are Up
Nov26 Poll: Public Is Worried about Pre-existing Conditions
Nov26 Sessions Is Not a Shoo-in for His Old Seat
Nov26 New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner Is a Goner
Nov26 Fox's New Bugaboo: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Nov26 Monday Q&A